The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 24, 2000

The real winner: special interests

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Congratulations, America.

We did it. In the Nov. 7 election, our nation's voters managed to make an election so close for the presidency and in both house of Congress that nothing of importance may get taken care of in the next two years.

We finally have the kind of government we deserve, and it's all because of our own special interests. No, not the kind of special interests that are pushed by lobbyists for trial lawyers, oil companies and environmentalists. We refer to special interests held by America's 102 million voters who cast a ballot on Nov. 7.

Some voted pro-choice. Some voted pro-life. Some voted in lockstep with the NRA. Others never picked up a gun and wanted greater controls on firearms. Some voted pro-worker. Some voted pro-business. Some wanted lower taxes. Some wanted more out of their government. Some voted to get Social Security partially privatized. Some voted to put it in a lockbox. Some only wanted to save the whales.

Our lawmakers in Washington always seem to get a bad rap because of legislative gridlock and constant bickering between the parties. Don't blame them entirely. Blame the people who put them there. The evenly split national vote on Nov. 7 for the presidency, U.S. House and Senate is clear evidence that the American people may not like things the way things operate in Washington D.C., but we haven't been able to come up with a better alternative.

Eight years ago, when Bill Clinton defeated George W.'s dad for the presidency, "it was about the economy, stupid," because the economy was in the tank. Things were a lot more clear-cut then. Eight years later, the election was still about the economy, sort of. But with a roaring economy and with the deficit no longer looming in the background, voters have decided to go off in a few other directions, and as a result, there is no mandate from the people on the major election issues of Campaign 2000.

Politically, there is no clear direction on how to "save" Social Security from bankruptcy. Relief from prescription drugs costs may take place, but neither the Republican plan nor the Democratic plan has a mandate. Lawmakers may push for tax relief, but whether the top 10 percent, bottom 10 percent, or middle-income wage earners see any change at all is impossible to predict. The list of uncertain issues goes on an on.

Obviously, neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore lit any fires of passion under the American people. And the result of Congressional elections just made the Republican-Democratic split more even. Voters had one day, Nov. 7, to cast their ballots in favor of their own "special interests," and they sent a rather muddled message. Before long, the other aforementioned special interests -Big Oil, Big Tobacco, etc. - will have a constant presence among lawmakers until the next election, making their voices heard loud and clear.

Over the past year, the building trades and the rest of organized labor did their best to counter the message of large companies, and encourage members of labor unions to vote for candidates who support the issues that are most important to all workers: fair pay standards, good health insurance, and strong worker safety policies.

The pro-worker stance is simple and direct. On Nov. 7, it hit home with many - but certainly not all - union workers. Clearly, many workers are still more worried about the government taking away their right to bear arms than they are worried about the government taking away their right to earn a living with a decent wage.

Similarly, many workers are more concerned with pro-/anti-abortion issues than they are with having the ability to provide for their family and to come home safely from work. No one will argue that those issues aren't important. But voting for candidates based on those types of issues leads to the muddled results that we saw on Nov. 7. There are no clear winners - and now probably few will get what they want - except perhaps, the special interests with the most money.

This extremely important election is over, and so is the window of opportunity for working people to collectively give direction to the people who represent us.